Cablegate: Gold's Glitter Is Fading in South Africa

DE RUEHSA #0565/01 0781351
R 181351Z MAR 08





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Gold's Glitter is Fading in South Africa

REF: 07 Johannesburg 0214

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The South African gold mining industry has not
been able to fully capitalize on record gold prices during
2007-2008. Gold mining was disrupted by a number of events, which
have cost millions of dollars in lost production and export
revenues. First, a power crisis came to a head when gold mines (and
most of the rest of the mining industry) were shut down for almost a
week in January 2008 when a number of Eskom's power plants went
off-line and power output fell to less than 75 percent of capacity.
Eskom first restricted supply to mines to 90 percent of historical
demand when power was restored, but has since agreed to increase
this to 95 percent on a case by case basis because of potential
impact on mine closures and job and export revenue losses. Second,
safety issues caused the Department of Minerals and Energy to close
some mines for up to a week during fourth quarter 2007 in response
to a spate of fatal accidents, fueling limited strikes focused on
safety. Finally, declining ore grades and rising costs have also
contributed to declining production in some mines. China overtook
South Africa as the world's number one producer in 2007 and is
likely to retain this position. South Africa will likely continue
its decline in production in 2008. End Summary.

2. (U) Energy Officer and Specialist met with the CEO's of South
Africa's three largest gold mining companies and mining research
organizations, attended Africa's premier Mining Indaba, and
descended into one of South Africa's "cutting edge" deep mines early
in 2008 in order to prepare this cable.

3. (SBU) BACKGROUND: The Witwatersrand sedimentary gold basin was
discovered in South Africa's north-central region in 1886 and has
proved to be the world's biggest and richest gold deposit, supplying
almost one-half of the world's gold ever produced. Initial mining
was carried out on small scale outcrops around Johannesburg, and
then mining consolidated and went deeper as easy-to-recover gold
from the shallow oxide zone was depleted. Some 70 individual mines
were listed on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange (JSE) in the
1970's, but this was reduced to less than 10 by the early 2000's.
Currently, mining takes place from surface outcrops to 4,200 meters
below surface and South African gold mines are discounted on
international stock exchanges because of depth, cost, safety and
political risk. Gold accounts for about 1.5 percent of South
Africa's GDP, 18 percent of total minerals produced, and 20 percent
of mineral exports (9 percent of merchandised exports).

4. (SBU) South Africa has missed out on much of the current
commodities boom (reftel), partly because of the normal time-lag
between new demand and gearing up to deliver new supply. This has
been exacerbated by uncertainty in the implementation of the SAG's
new minerals policies and legislation. Lack of experience and
capacity within the Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) has
caused the re-licensing process to take a long time and some
companies have resorted to the courts to get their permits approved.
Qcompanies have resorted to the courts to get their permits approved.
Uncertainty has inhibited potential investment in new mines and
mine expansions, particularly in exploration. By the end of 2006,
investors seemed to have overcome some of their concerns. Gold
mining investment increased rapidly during 2007 and major new
projects were announced. This positive development was short-lived
as the gold mining industry ran into a number of additional
obstacles during late 2007 and early 2008. These obstacles include
a power crunch, safety challenges, and declining ore-bodies in the
face of rising costs.

Grappling with the Energy Crunch

5. (SBU) Major gold mines in South Africa were shut down between
January 25 and 31 when state power company Eskom announced that it
could no longer guarantee power for production or the health and
safety of workers. The estimated production losses for the gold
mines exceeded $30 million per day. Eskom warned that it would take
four to five years before significant new capacity comes on line to
balance supply and demand. Heavy power users agreed to a 10 percent
power reduction for the foreseeable future to prevent a total system

PRETORIA 00000565 002 OF 004

failure, but at a substantial cost to output and employment. DME
and Eskom subsequently agreed to lift power supply to 95 percent of
mine requirements in response to industry warnings that 90 percent
power supply would lead to shaft closures and lay-offs. The new
allotment will be phased in as soon as possible, and Eskom intends
to monitor the effect on the system. Eskom has warned consumers
that system instability and insufficient conservation measures could
force resumption of load-shedding, applied sparingly since the
occurrence of substantial power outages in January.

6. (SBU) The mining industry is not happy about power rationing and
continues to harp on negative impact on jobs. However, biggest
producers AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony, and DRDGold said they could
implement efficiency measures to cope with a 90 percent supply, so
the increase to 95 percent should ensure nearly full production.
Anglo has stated they planned to reduce power consumption by 15 to
17 percent over the next few years. At the 90 percent level,
Harmony announced that it would have to close some shafts, redeploy
some 5,000 workers to other operations, and force a similar number
to take early retirement. Second biggest South African gold
producer Gold Fields complained bitterly about the 10 percent power
cut. CEO Ian Cockerill said the company intended to close a number
of less profitable shafts and sections, which would "initially"
result in some 7,000 retrenchments. He reasoned that 50 percent of
the power dedicated to Gold Fields' 3,000 to 4,000-meter deep mines
was required just to maintain essential services such as pumping,
ventilation, and cooling, so a 10 percent cut in power was
equivalent to at least a 20 percent loss of production. Cockerill
also asserted that retrenchments could escalate to 20,000 if
production costs continue to increase by 20 percent per annum. This
could affect the livelihood of some 200,000 people, so this
encouraged the union-backed ANC government to review the level of
power rationing.

Wrestling with Safety Challenges

7. (SBU) Mining companies have applied increasing attention to
worker safety and fatality and accident rates have shown a general
decline over past decades, but the 2007 count was the highest in six
years: 212 deaths up from 199 in 2006. The tripartite (labor,
government and industry) Mine Health and Safety Council reported
that about 56 percent of fatalities and 30 percent of all serious
injuries occurred in gold mines, most of which qualify as deep-level
mines. The South African Mines Reportable Accidents Statistical
System showed the main causes of fatalities to be rockfalls,
followed by rockbursts, locomotive accidents, and falling material.
Many rockfalls relate to seismic events caused by deep mining and
these made up about 63 percent of all gold-mining fatalities. The
Council says it has spent close to $25 million since 1994 in order
to tackle the problems of rockfalls and seismic events. A recent
study on human factors in accidents points to cultural and
Qstudy on human factors in accidents points to cultural and
attitudinal criteria as playing a major role in some 72 percent of
all accidents.

8. (SBU) The issue of mine safety was highlighted in the local media
when Anglo American's new Canadian CEO Cynthia Carroll removed
senior executives on the basis of their inattention and poor
performance on health and safety. The issue was given further focus
when 3,200 miners were trapped 3,000 meters underground at Harmony's
Elandsrand gold mine for more than 24 hours on October 2-3, 2007.
No fatalities or injuries were recorded, but the incident damaged
the safety reputation of South Africa's gold mining industry and
commanded a response from all players. (COMMENT: The only good
thing about the event was that it forced dozens of illegal miners to
the surface, where they were promptly arrested. End Comment.) The
National Union of Mineworkers accused the mines of practicing
"genocide" against workers and staged a one-day strike to protest
unsafe working conditions. The DME reacted by closing entire shafts
and mines after fatal accidents (instead of only the particular
working area) and has mooted charging managers with criminal
liability where insufficient safety practices exist. President
Mbeki ordered the Minister of Minerals and Energy to conduct safety
audits on all the country's mines during 2008. The DME inspectorate
does not have sufficient capacity for the task and is being assisted

PRETORIA 00000565 003 OF 004

by industry.

9. (SBU) Mining representatives argue that it is counter-productive
to close the entire mine after a fatality and that by doing so the
DME is exceeding the requirements of its own legislation. Moreover,
they assert that such closures exacerbate rather than improve safety
conditions and that deep mines require continuous attention at
working faces to maintain safe roof conditions and to forestall
dangerous rockbursts. However, government remains determined to put
an end to safety violations where they are found to exist.

10. (SBU) Gold mining companies agree that the government's strong
reaction serves to focus attention on mine safety issues and can
encourage stakeholders to work together. They believe, however,
that the causes of accidents include skills shortages and a
workforce where as many as 50 percent have no previous mining (or
industrial) experience. Depth of mining is not considered a safety
issue if properly managed. There is a critical need to increase
safety training and awareness among managers and workers in order to
change cultural attitudes toward safety.

--------------------------------------------- --
Resisting Declining Ore Grades and Rising Costs
--------------------------------------------- --

11. (SBU) South Africa has been the world's major gold producer
since 1905 when it overtook the U.S., reaching a peak output of
1,000 tons in 1970. Production declined by another 7.4 percent in
2007 to 254.7 tons, and estimates predict a further 10 percent
decline in 2008 due to power shortages. At the same time, Chinese
output increased to between 270 and 276 tons in 2007, garnering them
the rank of world's number one producer, as acknowledged recently by
the South African Chamber of Mines. Gold's contribution to the
economy has declined and the size of its revenues has been overtaken
by platinum, coal and the ferro-alloy industry (see table below).
Nevertheless, gold mining remains important as an employer of
unskilled labor and a generator of foreign exchange. South Africa
maintains the potential to add over one million extra ounces (32
tons) to annual output if planned production from new mines and
expansion projects comes on line over the next three to five years,
assuming that costs, safety and electricity disruptions are
contained, and that the gold price continues its upward march past
$1,000 per ounce.

12. (SBU) Seismic surveys indicate that gold reefs extend nine
kilometers below the surface in many areas of the 65,000 square
kilometers gold-bearing Witwatersrand basin. Major mining houses
have committed to significant mine expansions in 2006-7, a number
going deeper than four kilometers. As mines go deeper, operating
costs will increase for ore-body access and worker transportation,
rock hoisting, health and safety, ventilation and cooling, and
pumping. Some of these expansions may be delayed or indefinitely
postponed should power shortages remain in place for an extended
period. Regulatory and licensing uncertainty also remains a major
impediment to investment and production commitments.
Qimpediment to investment and production commitments.

13. (SBU) COMMENT: Gold production is expected to decline further in
2008 due to challenges associated with power shortages, safety
issues, and declining ore grades in the face of rising costs. The
South African gold industry will remain a significant employer and
export earner, even if its place in the economy and the minerals
sector gradually declines. Government will need to work
collaboratively with labor and industry in order to lessen the rate
of decline and take advantage of remaining harder-to-reach
geological potential. Otherwise, the South African gold industry
will continue to lose its glitter. End Comment.

14. (U) Appended tables below show:
-- Decline in actual employment of South African gold mines and as a
percentage of the industry as a whole
-- Increase in employment on non-gold South African mines,
particularly since 1995-2000
-- Decline in actual South African gold production and as a
percentage of global production
-- Increase in the value of sales of non-gold commodities compared
to gold and gold's declining share of total sales

PRETORIA 00000565 004 OF 004

Employment (1000's)
1985 1995 2000 2005 2006 2007 %Change
All Mines 807 599 418 444 459 500 -38
Gold Mines 528 380 217 161 160 160 -70
Mines 279 219 201 283 299 340 +22
%Employed by
Gold Mines 65 63 52 36 35 32 -51

Gold Production (tons)
SA 673 524 431 295 272 255 -62
SA as % of
Global 44 23 17 12 11 10 -77

Sales Value (R billions)
All Mines 27.2 55.1 98.5 143.4 195.5 223.0 +720
Gold Mines 15.3 23.5 25.2 24.6 37.4 38.2 +150
Gold as %
of Sales 56 43 26 17 19 17 -69


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